As of 1 September 2012 people found squatting in residential properties face up to six months in prison and a fine of up to £5,000 since there is now an absolute bar making it a criminal offence to do so.
Since 1995 it has been a criminal offence to squat in premises if it can be shown that the landowner was a displaced residential occupier and they have been deprived of their occupation by a squatter. This typical situation involves coming home one day to find somebody living in your property, perhaps during a period of renovation.
The new legislation widens the ambit to include all residential properties and not just those that are occupied or shortly about to be occupied. It also gives the right for persons other than the homeowner to make a complaint if it is believed that somebody is unlawfully occupying a residential property, whether it is occupied or unoccupied. The law does not apply to commercial properties.
Clearly this places greater responsibility on the Police to make an assessment rather than refer the matter back to the landowner to issue civil proceedings, but it appears to be a positive step in preventing unlawful occupation from taking place. This should reduce the potential legal costs a homeowner will face in bringing civil proceedings and should prevent squatters from taking up residence and the inevitable damage to the property which is caused, the cost of which is almost always picked up by the landowner.
For more information please contact Robert Cherry in our Dispute Resolution Department.